New York Giants receiver Sterling Shepard has been through three head coaches during his time with the franchise. Although Joe Judge, the Giants' current head coach, is unlike Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur, Shepard is enjoying playing for Judge so far.
That was one of several topics Shepard spoke about on a recent episode of The Oklahoma Breakdown, hosted by Gabe Ikard and Teddy Lehman.
"He's a tough coach, man," Shepard said of Judge. "He's tough coach, but that's what we needed. For the previous two coaches, we didn't do any conditioning or anything like that. But I will say last year was my first year of really having a conditioning--it kind of felt like Oklahoma all over again."
Judge, who famously drew criticism from national talking heads who questioned--and in some cases mocked the then-first-year head coach for his old-school way of running practices--ultimately got the last laugh.
Rather than lose the Giants locker room, Judge got the players to buy into his program and play hard for him right down to the last week of the season, the Giants just barely missing winning the NFC East.
Shepard said that Judge's methods were just what the doctor ordered.
"You know what? It was honestly good for us. We would get into the fourth quarter and guys would be wheezing and we were like, nothing happened. So he's getting us into shape, but it's all for good."
Here are a few other topics Shepard discussed with Ikard and Lehman.
He Changed his Jersey Number to Honor His Father's Memory
Shepard became the first high-profiled Giants player to take advantage of the opportunity to change his jersey number to a single-digit, going from No. 87 to No. 3.
No. 3 is what he wore in high school and at Oklahoma, and the number has a special meaning to Shepard.
"That number means so much to me," Shepard said of No. 3. "You know, my dad (Derek Shepard) used to wear that number and that's kind of where he made his name at Oklahoma wearing that number on his back. So, I always wanted to follow in his footsteps."
Derek Shepard would also wear No. 87 in the NFL, the number his son would ultimately get with the Giants.
"My dad passed when I was six. I had been number three from that point on, so it feels good to have it back on my back."
On Playing With Elite Talent with the Giants
Shepard has been one of the Giants' most consistent and reliable receivers and is one of a few draft picks from the previous regime to earn a second contract with the team.
Shepard credited some of his former teammates for helping him take his game to a whole new level.
"I'm a guy that never stops learning. Like Golden (Tate) was really good with finding the zones and getting open and I just kind of picked his brain with that," he said.
"Then you have Odell (Beckham Jr), who's a freak athlete, but just from the route standpoint, I was always picking his brain on the routes.
"And then Victor Cruz--like, his YAC (yards after catch) was out of this world. So just different things from each and every guy. I'm constantly asking questions and uh, yeah, I'm not afraid to learn some new stuff even going into year six."
On Going Through a Change at Quarterback
For years, many of the Giants players were treated to a rare occurrence: having the same quarterback day in and day out.
That, of course, was Eli Manning, who never missed a game during his Giants career because of injury. As the team's elder statesman, Manning had a knack for raising the talent level around him for so many years.
When the Giants transitioned to Daniel Jones in 2019, Shepard found the transition to be mostly easy to make.
"Yeah, I kind of got prepared for that," he said. "I played with four different quarterbacks at Oklahoma, so I'm kind of used to that."
Shepard noted that while at first Manning and Daniel Jones seem like twins separated at birth, they have two very different personalities, Manning being more of a loose and playful type who enjoys a good prank while Jones is a bit more on the serious side.
What about from a football perspective?
"Eli had everything down pat," Shepard said. "He was able to tell me my route and then three other guys what they needed to run. Now it's a little different. You have a young guy who is trying to figure out his way and then, you know, he's got a lot on his plate, but Daniel's smart guy who wants to be great."
Shepard tipped his cap to Jones for putting in the time.
"I mean, he puts in the work every day. He's the first one in the building, the last one to leave always in the meeting room. He's always trying to pick our brains on what we're thinking. So I really appreciate the way that he works and he he's made some strides for sure."
On Running Back Saquon Barkley, with Whom He's Trained This Off-Season
Saquon Barkley has been hard at work trying to rehab from a torn ACL suffered in Week 2 of last season, ironically the same game in which Shepard suffered a turf toe injury that landed him on injured reserve for a few weeks.
Whereas Shepard returned, Barkley wasn't as lucky. But Shepard, who has spent part of the off-season training with Barkley out in Arizona, said he was encouraged by what he's seen.
"Yeah, man, he's looking good. He's confident," Shepard said of Barkley. "And that's the way you want it to be. You want his head to be strong and it has been this far."
On His Personal Goals
Shepard revealed he has one primary goal for the upcoming season: to be there for his teammates every week.
"Yeah, so we actually had to write down our goals last week and my number one was play all 17 (games)," he said.
"I have had two seasons where I've missed, I think I missed a total of eight games in those two seasons. So I want to get back to playing all 17 and being able to being able to help my teammates out."